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Hot Meetings and Hard Kraals: African Biblewomen in Transvaal Methodism, 1924-601

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

Whereas women's prayer groups are a well-known strength of African Christianity in Southern Africa, the evangelistic and pastoral contribution of individual women who were not clergy wives has been under-appreciated. Echoing models from Victorian London and Indian missions, Methodism in South Africa evolved an authorised, paid form of female lay ministry via middle-aged black Biblewomen sponsored and overseen by white Women's Auxiliary groups. The first appointee in the Transvaal and Swaziland District wrote comparatively full reports of emotionally 'hot' revival meetings. In 'hard' kraals she encountered hostility in the form of patriarchal control of women and an unusual proliferation of rival indigenous spirits. Her successors found male drinking an even greater obstacle to a sympathetic hearing. In urban townships along the Witwatersrand, Biblewomen work was less pioneering and more routinised, providing pastoral support to local churches via sick-visiting and following up lapsed members. From 1945-59, some Biblewomen were trained at Lovedale Bible School. The period after 1960 deserves separate exploration. In 1997, a new start was made with a national, autonomous Biblcwomen ministry, though many women, black and white, regretted severing their personal and organisational links of mutual dependence.

Affiliations: 1: (Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University


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